8.1.1 Previous resource assessments and regional studies

A number of resource assessments and regional studies have been carried out previously and the following are useful resources:

Key observations from previous work

Given the above discussion of terminology, it is essential to use the overarching chronological term ‘early medieval’ where possible for the period 400–1100. However, from a heritage management perspective, the early medieval period is still particularly difficult to extract in terms of HER data, with many records subsumed under the more generic ‘Medieval’. Centres of power such as hillforts also do not lend themselves to specific queries, as they can span from the Bronze Age to the early medieval period in the study area. Queries for thesaurus terms such as ‘long cist’ and ‘monastery’ were utilised as a proxy to extract further sites, but it means that records that could be identified as early medieval have their own chronological biases. This is that ‘long cist’ burials are most often encountered from the earlier part of the period, while churches and carved stones identifying ‘monasteries’ most often date to later in the period.

Much of the evidence for the various peoples which inhabited the region in the early medieval period comes in the form of individual artefacts rather than at site level. However, there is as yet no seamless way of incorporating small finds reported through the Treasure Trove process and museum collections into regional HERs, meaning these data are often left out of the discussion.

When objects are encountered and labelled, they are far more likely to be given a specific cultural label when they pertain to Roman, Anglo-Saxon or Viking Age styles, which are relatively well-attested and documented elsewhere. Sites with these objects are themselves then labelled Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon or Viking, on the basis that the objects attest to the presence of specific communities. The term ‘British’, on the other hand, is rarely used, and then most often as a blanket term referring to settlement and burial types used in the 5th and 6th centuries, such as hillforts and long cists, even though both continued in use thereafter. There are few diagnostically ‘British’ object types (eg Cessford 1999; Collins 2010); and no ‘British’ art style present in the north until the advent of Viking Age schools of sculpture based at Govan and Whithorn (eg Craig 1991; Driscoll et al 2009). The impulse to use terms like sub-Roman and Romano-British for 5th to 6th-century archaeology tends to leave the Britons much less visible (Cessford 1999; Driscoll 2015) and could reinforce an inaccurate view of peoples being ‘replaced’ by waves of migrants or invaders. As noted above, the British-speaking kingdom of Cumbria remained a player in the SESARF region until as late as the Battle of Carham in 1018, and while place-names reveal the strength of Old English in the area (Hough 2020), recent work has also highlighted the extent to which Gaelic was spoken in the region through the later medieval period (McGuigan 2021, 513­­­–526).

Another long-standing issue is that the modern border has severed the SESARF area from larger datasets drawn from England and Wales, especially the Portable Antiquities Scheme, but also England-specific datasets like the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. This leaves the study of Northumbrian Scotland undeveloped and less able to contribute to wider narratives (Blackwell 2018).

Illustration of a late 16th century map of Scotland.
Scotia Regnum Map 1595 by Mercator Gerhard, 1512-1594 (CC BY © National Library of Scotland)

Finally, the result of extracting from the HER is a distribution of sites with particular concentrations in the fertile lowlands with almost no sites being situated in the uplands of the region. Whether or not this is representative of a genuine shift from upland to lowland settlement, or a by-product of archaeological bias indicative of a lower intensity of fieldwork. These biases make it difficult to trace changes in agricultural practice, and consequently diet and subsistence patterns across the period are relatively understudied for the region. Patterns of settlement including urbanisation, the establishment of markets, and the critical infrastructure of roads, bridges and harbours, must be seen in tandem with the changing agricultural regimes needed to support them, including large-scale food processing sites, crop specialisation and storage facilities.

Therefore some areas to be explored for this period include:

  • the apparent dearth of settlement sites;
  • the relative lack of upland settlements;
  • creating distributions of artefacts from excavations, fieldwalking and metal detecting;
  • the relative archaeological invisibility of Britons and Gaels especially in the later part of the period;
  • lack of evidence for pre-Christian ceremonial and ritual sites;
  • the relationship of early burial grounds with ecclesiastical sites;
  • lack of evidence for pre-Northumbrian period ecclesiastical sites;
  • evidence for sites of trade and exchange before the establishment of burghs;
  • evidence for craft and agricultural specialisation;
  • evidence for maritime trade and infrastructure;
  • evidence for dietary and subsistence strategy changes over time.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the South East Scottish Material for the Early Medieval Period


  • The Lothian portion of the SESARF region has the largest coverage of archaeologically investigated early medieval burials from anywhere else in Scotland. This means this region has great potential for exploring past lifeways through bioarchaeological research (eg isotopes, osteoarchaeology).
  • Because of the relatively dense population in the SESARF area, metal detecting and commercial archaeology have led to interesting and informative discoveries.


  • Lack of consistency over cultural and chronological terminology.
  • The region is routinely left out of databases on Anglo-Saxon or later sculpture and material culture.
  • There is a lack of archaeological remains for settlement and religious buildings dating to the early medieval period.
  • The main evidence from the SESARF area comes from material culture (primarily stray finds) and burial contexts.
  • Despite the known importance of Edinburghduring the early medieval period, there is very little evidence from the city itself.
  • There is a distinct gap in the evidence for conflicts in the area despite written accounts for battles that took place in the region.


  • The SESARF region provides a unique opportunity to revise chronological barriers with sites like Traprain Law and Newstead bridging the Roman/early medieval divide.
  • Creating cross-border artefactual distributions would emphasise parallels and differences across northern Britain.
  • Creating a corpus of early medieval sculpture, in a similar vein to the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture that stops at the border, should be a priority. This could form the model for recording sculpture across Scotland as well.
  • Having so many excavated early medieval cemeteries would allow for large-scale analysis of diet, mobility and life ways in the region.
  • A high density of hillforts remain unexcavated, particularly in the Border region, with considerable potential for discovering early medieval settlement
  • A wealth of historical and archaeological data available makes it possible to reconstruct territorial boundaries and lordship during the formation of the kingdom of Scotland
  • A number of high-profile sites of national significance with strong archaeological and historical potential, including Cramond, Sprouston, Coldingham, Carham, Jedburgh, Old Melrose, Abercorn and Aberlady.